Thursday, January 22, 2009

Anniversary of Roe v Wade and abortion protest at the US Capitol

I had forgotten that today is the anniversary of Roe v Wade, the US Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion throughout the United States. I was on my way to the Capitol to cover an event for the health policy group at a think tank I work for and saw a number of male priests in collars on the trains. I also ended up wading through a number of protesters.

President Obama supports the right to have an abortion. There are at most 4 justices on the US Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v Wade if a legal challenge were mounted. Several of the more liberal justices will retire but Obama would likely appoint justices who would retain the ruling. Abortion foes are not happy.

In some ways, the focus solely on abortion misses the fact that people need access to a full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive education and contraception. Pro-choice people would like to find common ground with pro-lifers in reducing the number of abortions that have to be performed.

One Congressman who spoke said that he would either introduce a bill to bar federal funding to Planned Parenthood, or would oppose any bills that gave federal funding to that organization (I can't remember his exact words). Planned Parenthood provides health education services, women's and men's health services, LGBT related services, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception and birth control services. All these reduce the need for abortion services. Additionally, Planned Parenthood has an obligation to serve people without regard to insurance status. It is a safety net for poor women (albeit there are growing concerns that its services for the uninsured are becoming too expensive, possibly because they aren't receiving enough funding). Without safety net services, poor women would be at higher risk of teen and unplanned pregnancy.

The Roman Catholic position that sex must be for the purpose of procreation is not grounded in Scripture. Their opposition to condoms is not grounded in reality; indeed, Catholics working on the ground with AIDS victims are increasingly advocating for condom use. The reality is that people all over the world have sex. Many of them do so before marriage, or, unfortunately, behind the back of a married partner. Churches should not make themselves enemies of the public health. They should absolutely promote their standards for sexual behavior among their own membership, so long as such standards are reasonable. But they certainly should not promote unreasonable standards, or worse try to force those standards on everyone else.

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